Why I got it wrong with Russell Wilson

August 25th, 2012 | Written by Rob Staton

Russell Wilson appears to be days away from winning the starting QB job

I’m happy to admit when I get something wrong. I think people who write draft blogs should be prepared to do that. Not with every bad judgement, but certainly with some. Just to balance it out. There’s a lot of self-appreciation from people who pontificate on the draft but not enough humbling honesty sometimes.

I ignored Russell Wilson because of his height. That was a big mistake.

Regulars will know I didn’t give Wilson enough respect on this blog. Overall we looked at a great number of quarterbacks, including those expected to go in the later rounds. We spent a great deal of time looking at guys like Kirk Cousins and Chandler Harnish. We looked in detail at Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill. We dissected two quarterbacks who didn’t even declare in Matt Barkley and Landry Jones.

But we didn’t spend enough time looking at Russell Wilson. Or at least I didn’t – Kip was right on the mark on this one. A lot of people claim – with hindsight – that they always liked a certain guy. Kip genuinely did feel that way and often spoke of not only his talent, but his fit in Seattle’s offense. I think I recall him saying he was virtually the ideal quarterback fit for the Seahawks. He looks pretty smart today.

In April he called the pick of Wilson in round three his favorite of any draft. “There was no pick I ever enjoyed hearing in the moment more than this one. I’ve followed the draft as a Seahawks fan for about 20 years, and this was only the second time that a pick made me leap off the couch and scream in celebration. The other time was in 2007 when Brandon Mebane somehow reached our third round pick and the Seahawks didn’t repeat their mistake of passing on him in the previous round.”

Prior to the draft he ranked Wilson as the #3 quarterback in the draft, behind only Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. “His line at Wisconsin was one of the tallest in the country and taller than many NFL lines, and yet he had almost zero height related problems because the scheme and his own talent allowed him to find throwing lanes to look through. I honestly worry more about Wilson’s stats being inflated by Wisconsin’s high completion rate offense more than I worry about his height. If Wilson goes to the right kind of offense, namely an offense just like Seattle’s, I believe that at a minimum he’ll be one of the league’s best backups, with a chance to be a good starter.”

Yet as good as Kip looks because of his sound judgement, I’m not afraid to admit I didn’t do a good enough job looking at Wilson. We published some tape, broke it down and I answered the occasional question, but he clearly warranted more than that. We’ve seen that in pre-season and in two weeks time he could be a starting NFL quarterback. It’s not so much missing on a player because you can’t expect to get them all right, but having dedicated so much time to the quarterback position in general… Wilson deserved more time.

A few people have accused me of being one-sided in favor of Wilson from day one. I’m happy to say I thought Wilson should start this year pretty much as soon as he was drafted. But that wasn’t based on some ridiculous crush based on college tape. I was pretty lukewarm on Wilson in college. My argument for him starting had nothing to do with preference to Wilson or Matt Flynn. On May 1st, shortly after Wilson was drafted, I wrote the following:

I think Russell Wilson has every chance to become the rookie starting quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks.

I see his (Flynn’s) signing as opportunistic on Seattle’s behalf, taking another chance on a guy who was available at the right price due to a weak market. But if one of the other quarterbacks performs better in camp, I have absolutely no doubt at all that Flynn will be the backup. Seattle has carried an expensive backup quarterback for the last two years. They’re prepared to go with the right man, not the man who cost the most money.

There’s been no reference to patience with Wilson, just a lot of talk about how he’s beaten the odds. I get the feeling they truly believe Russell Wilson could be the quarterback not just for the future, but maybe even for now. After all, hasn’t Carroll talked about young quarterbacks starting early in the modern NFL? Has he not discussed his willingness to play young players, even at the most important position? Has he not backed that up by thrusting rookies into starting roles with some impressive results?

It could be argued that Wilson even has a slight edge, given the investment of a valuable third round pick in his services. That to me is more of a commitment than the salaries due to both Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Flynn in 2012.

If the Seahawks are as excited about Wilson as they suggest, I think they might as well start the guy. Hey, they’ve talked the pick up to the extreme so let’s see what he has. Rookies start early in this league, and had the Seahawks drafted Wilson in round one a lot of people would expect him to be the quarterback in 2012. I get the impression that Schneider and Carroll see Wilson as a round one talent who fell due to height anyway.

But more than anything I just think the Seahawks need to know what they’ve got. Whether it’s Flynn, Wilson or Jackson starting next season, if the performance is still inadequate there’s going to be increasing pressure on the team to draft a quarterback in round one, even if it requires a Robert Griffin III style trade. If the Seahawks go 7-9 again next year with the quarterback again throwing more picks than touchdowns, it’ll be difficult to justify why the guy who couldn’t beat out the struggling 2012 starter is now the right man to lead the team. Fans and media will grow impatient as the next free agent or mid-round pick is trotted out as the starter.

And quite frankly it’s about time Seattle had some direction at the position beyond a year or two. If they need to go big for a Matt Barkley or Logan Thomas next year, then let’s find out if that’s the case.

The run game and defense will help Seattle win another 7-8 games. The difference between sticking in that range and progressing to 9-12 wins will be improved quarterback play. So let’s see if Wilson is up to the job. The Seahawks need some long term planning at the position. They can’t change the quarterback every year. First Hasselbeck, then Whitehurst, then Jackson. Will it be Flynn this year and if he fails, Wilson next year? Having a revolving door at quarterback will hold this team back. Eventually, they need to commit.

Next years class could have the answer. Barkley, Thomas, Wilson. It still stands to reason that eventually Seattle might have to go big on a quarterback. If Flynn produces a performance comparable to Jackson, and Wilson doesn’t start as a rookie, there’s going to be some pressure to be proactive again but this time in round one… to get a quarterback that can give this regime a chance to deliver a consistent playoff challenger. It’s another reason why Seattle has to be prepared next year. They need to know if the big move is necessary or if they’ve already found the answer. They’ll only find out that answer by starting Russell Wilson. So why not?

That was my argument for Wilson starting. I think there’s at least some logic involved there, rather than, “OMG Russell Wilson is a great quarterback and must start!!!”

Perhaps I would’ve been saying such a silly remark had I actually seen past the height and concentrated on the football? It still bugs me that I was so short sighted there. I actually thought Wilson would last deep into the draft – purely because teams would’ve graded him as another Seneca Wallace with maximum value as a solid backup. I got it wrong. It’s probably one of many reasons why I write a blog rather than work in Seattle’s front office. But the likelihood is my line of thinking was shared in many front offices around the NFL. And that’s to their detriment it seems.

I do have an excuse and so do they. It was due to the famous ‘conventional wisdom’ that we’ve heard so much about this off-season. I saw a 5-10 quarterback and didn’t expect he’d translate. And here he is, churning out the yards and scoring drives on a NFL roster.

I like to see each draft as an opportunity to learn. That doesn’t just mean the negatives, it’s the positives too. For every bad projection there’s usually a good one. Usually. Tim Ruskell was pretty easy to understand during his time as Seahawks GM and a lot of media pundits could read his mind relatively easily when it came to the draft. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are almost impossible to work out, but there are little trends emerging.

If I could go back now – and it’s always easy to say that – I’d highlight the fact that Wilson isn’t quite like any quarterback we’ve seen before. Carroll clearly likes that, but not in the way some have suggested (eg – simply being determined to be different). He’s short yet has very few passes tipped. Ryan Tannehill is 6-4 and had plenty of tipped passes at Texas A&M last year and the same is happening in pre-season with Miami. His throwing motion is slingy and at times costly. Wilson, despite being much shorter, has a technically sound over-the-top release that has allowed him to avoid similar problems. Getting out of the pocket helps, but when he did stay in there last season he still completed clean passes.

His production at NC State and Wisconsin was impressive, so was his ability to avoid turnovers. Carroll preaches winning the turnover battle almost as much as competition – and here was a QB who barely ever turned it over in college. He had character and purpose, a determination seemingly brought about by ambition, competitive spirit and family tragedy after his father sadly passed away. When he visited Jon Gruden for the quarterback camp series this year, Gruden commented, “if you give Russell Wilson a chance to win a job, he’ll win it.” How true that statement is right now.

There were enough positives out there for a guy like Carroll to see beyond the height thing. My mistake was in failing to notice that. And given how enamoured the front office appeared to be when they made that third round pick, really this is a lesson to be learned. I don’t think we’ll ever work Carroll the way people worked out Ruskell’s philosophy, but we can still be smarter.

Nothing is conventional about this team. We should remember that as we move forward and begin to analyse the 2013 draft class. Increasingly, it looks like we might be able to concentrate on positions other than quarterback. And what a refreshing change that would be.

19 Responses to “Why I got it wrong with Russell Wilson”

  1. South_Seahawk says:

    Great article. It’s refreshing to see someone admit his mistake. We see so many draftv pundits tooting their horn when they correctly predict someone will be good. I too wrote Wilson off based on his height.

    Also good point in that we can now learn even more from Pete and John. They are very open minded to good players and that excited me.

  2. Swamp_fox says:

    Good on you, Rob for taking one on the chin. Its posts like this that keep your credibility high.

    I’m still giddy over last night’s stellar performance, and can only imagine how JS and PC feel about pulling the trigger on RW and watching him excel. This FO has earned so much fan (and clearly player) respect in a relatively short period of time, it’s truly remarkable.

    Amazing time to be Seahawks fans, people!

  3. dave crockett says:

    What I really like about this squad is that it is pretty damned talented. There are holes to be sure, but when you start looking at units rather than just individual talents the emerging roster has a New England feel to it. To use a baseball analogy, this team isn’t going to waste many at-bats on sub-replacement players. It may not have many household names, but it’s highly unlikely we will see any bums make the final 53.

    I actually blew off Wilson for a far worse reason. I set my first impression in stone, and basically refused to change it. Wilson’s first “real” college start was vs. South Carolina. He was pretty awful, prone to tucking and running at the first sign of trouble and throwing balls up for grabs. Our defense just ate him alive. After that, I figured he was just a guy who couldn’t hit a curve or play QB. When he was among the leaders in efficiency, my response was, “Meh. David Greene was efficient. We all know how that turned out.”

    • A long time ago, I was reading a Mariners blog by “Dr. Detecto”- if you’ve been around a really long time you probably know who he is- and he’d always talk about Honda Civics vs. Stars and scrubs.

      Pat Gillick has been a pretty successful GM basically everywhere he’s been by using a Honda Civic type mentality- rather than signing a couple of megastars and filling out the rest of the roster with prospects and replacement level players, he’d go out and find veterans that were solidly above average and didn’t cost a lot of money, and he’d build an entire team with those players. The result was a whole lot of 90+ win teams over the last couple decades.

      Of course, it’s a little different in the NFL. You wouldn’t want to built your entire roster off of FA in the NFL, but the way that John Schneider has worked the waiver wires is pretty close. Brandon Browner, Raheem Brock, Brandon Stokley, Anthony Hargrove, Breno Giacomini, Paul McQuistan, and now TO/Edwards and Kellen Winslow, you can see how much value he added to the team with very little investment. And that’s not even talking about the job he and Carroll have done in the draft.

      We have a bit of a Pat Gillick type team with the Seahawks right now, in fact the current team kind of reminds me of Gillick’s best team- the 2001 Mariners. It wouldn’t shock me if the Seahawks had a “116 win season” equivalent in the next few years.

      • dave crockett says:

        Kip,

        you’re gonna mess around and make me giddy about this team. I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic, but that’s just not good enough for you. Is it? :)

        Love the Gillick comparison. It’s surprising how few NFL GMs approach team-building that way. Oddly, Tim Ruskell might have been closest. I think he just didn’t have a good feel for actually picking out Civics.

  4. MJ says:

    Great stuff Rob! The thing that impresses me most about RW is that he looks natural out there. Nothing seems forced. His actions are smooth and slow (in a good way). It doesn’t seem too big for him.

  5. James says:

    The football gods have given Pete a window to name Russell Wilson as the starter without the expected friction issues. Matt Flynn’s injury provides a nice excuse to go ahead and commit now to Wilson. It will be interesting to see how bad Flynn’s elbow really is. You simply don’t miss an entire week of practice and a crucial game due to a “dead arm.” Tired throwing muscles would recover in a couple of days. This “tendinitis” sounds suspiciously like a pitcher’s elbow ligament injury. The Seahawks may be counting their blessings that they did not trade T-Jack, who may be needed as the #2. Whither Matt Flynn’s future if Russell plays well this season? He could be the Seahawks QB who never was.

    • Derrick says:

      Tendonitis is just that, a tendon injury (repetitive use) – not a ligament injury! And, yes, rest is the prescribed treatment.

      I just think it’s hilarious that pundits like Tim Hasselbeck whined that Wilson was taking snaps from Flynn. Flynn’s arm obviously couldn’t handle the reps he did get!

      • pqlqi says:

        you are right, but they didn’t say Flynn had tendinitis… they said he had tendinitis like symptoms. UCL injuries are almost indistinguishable from tendinitis on clinical examination. given an apparent lack of traumatic injury, UCL seems unlikely, but it could still be possible if Flynn was trying to compete a little too vigourously.

        I think the only think that argues against a significant UCL injury is the fact that Seattle is trading TJ.

  6. JS says:

    I love the prospect of looking towards the next draft without QB as the primary issue. There’s a long way to go but I love where they are headed. I got a little excited about Wilson when you guys were covering late round QB options, but I thought he would be a 5th rounder then. I was kinda hoping he was one they were looking at, but only as a flyer. Never saw an immediate starter, but he looks great. Couldn’t be more excited for this season. It’s been awhile since I’ve said that.

  7. Rugby lock says:

    Gentlemen we are close to going from a QBOTF draft strateegery to a BPA strateegery. How awesome would that be!

  8. Scott says:

    The first time Kip mentioned Wilson’s long arms, big hands, and over the top release, my response was Yeah, but unless his eyeballs are attached to antennae, it does not matter!

    I was oh so wrong.

  9. Stuart says:

    Thats funny! When I have watched Russell Wilson game tape of his Wisconsin days, he looks the same, excellent. How many college qb’s are actually just as good as they were in college? Russell Wilson will only get better in time. His dedication, work ethic, positive attitude and humbleness are everything you would love your star player to have and he does in spades.

    I am 52 years old and have always been a hard core seahawk fan. The last time I was this excited was when the Seahawks lucked out on 1/37 odds and won the supplement draft and chose Brian Bosworth. Bosworth had yet to play for us but that feeling was golden to me. But now with Russell Wilson, he is proving it and getting better as time goes on. Even the national media is paying attention.

    My hope is that Flynn plays the first have against the Raiders and then T-Jack/Portis finish out. Hold out our Russell Wilson for the regualar season. He took some big hits last game and I dont want him getting dinged up.

  10. MJ says:

    If RW ornFlynn proves to be a good QB this year (hoping RW), I think we need to make a big play for a top notch WR. Pay big $ for Mike Wallace or target Keenan Allen in the draft. With our running game, a WR who can take the top of and produce some YAC, would be deadly. JS has clearly proven his ability to find very good players later in the draft.

  11. Jim Kelly says:

    Rob, don’t worry about being right on every projection. Your blog is so in depth that you probvide great insight into each draft. You call the Seahawks’ needs better than almost any pundit. You have predicted their picks better than anyone, including Rob Rang. It takes a big man to admit when they’re wrong, and you did that. Also, don’t you live in England? That’s nearly 5,000 miles away, and you’re still better than most “experts”. Besides, aren’t you the one that said Pete Carroll should run to the podium and pick Earl Thomas if he was available at the 14th pick? You might not get them all right, but you do pretty well.
    I just spent 6 months in Vancouver, WA, and I had no idea how many Duck fans lived there. I was talking to one of them about the Hawks qb battle, and he thought that Matt Flynn would start over Tavaris Jackson. I told him I thought that Flynn would start, but that Russell Wilson might start this year, but next year for sure. He didn’t know who Wilson was. I told him he played for Wisconson. He asked if it was the same qb from the Rose Bowl. I told him it was, and he insisted that he’d start the first game. He felt that Wilson was that good. He didn’t know how tall Wilson is. He just went on talent.
    Kip, I think you were the one that laughed at my comment that Wilson would’ve been a top 3 pick if he was three inches taller. I knew the kid was good, just not this good.
    Anyway, it doesn’t matter that you guys make mistakes because you are usually so far ahead of the curve that one misstep doesn’t really matter all that much. And Rob, I’d actually like to see you work for the Hawks front office. If you had been in the FO, you would’ve been able to see better film, Russell throw in oerson, and actually interviewed him. You probably would’ve been as giddy as Carroll and Schneider were over him.
    Well, to end this, you both do a great job, that’s why so many come here regularly. Even when it’s not draft season.

  12. peter says:

    Rob,

    it seems that you are tying to threads into one post. I can see your “lament,” as it were about not covering Wilson “enough.” But prior to the draft between you and Kip I thought damn near every able bodied signal caller was written up and dissected.

    The other part about seeing what you have, I still think, as a full on Wilson supporter mind you, is valid. I would love to believe that Russell Wilson is *magical* and here we go Offensive Rookie of the Year, etc, etc, blah, blah…but what if he does turd out, then the FO can say “hey this guy crapped out, and he beat out the other guy, plain as day on paper at least, let’s drop our draft picks off at Miami’s door (or whomever is higher then us) and get us one of those Barkeley/Thomas’ I’ve been hearing so much about”

  13. Jarhead says:

    Seriously though, Wilson has just stepped on to the field and proven he was the superior Quarterback. I feel that the whole Flynn injury is hogwash and an attempt to let him save face. When he was “healthy” he never looked better than RW3 for a single snap. And Wilson starting that game 3 was announced prior to Flynn’s supposed injury. This is a flat out “Best Man Won” situation, and there were many of us who predicted it. I am not in the business of being right but I AM in the business of watching the Hawks kick ass as I am sure they will be doing much of. Honestly there isn’t another rookie QB out there besides Luck who looks as good as RW3, but what do you think our chances are of him getting much positive praise from the pundits?